Art History

These writings are my views on the history and understanding of art as I know it to be.

Being an MFA candidate does not mean that you are simply a student.

As artist we are always learning something. Whether it is new ways to do something, new materials to use, or new ways to promote and market our work, we are always on a journey to find something new in our art. This has been part of being an artist for as long as we have had fine art.

There was a time in art, when emerging and established artists were not just required to improve, but also expected to study beyond just what they have learned before. During the Enlightenment artist like Diego Velazquez would take time to travel to other countries and study new forms of making art. During their journeys while they were studying they were still considered to be well-established or master artists. This tradition of the artists going back to or even continuing their professional study would continue until the 1920’s were we start to see a change in the idea of the MFA or studying of art in a formal setting from being a furthering for artists to simply a institutional program for people to learn art.

In this day of mass media and the internet it is more important for artists to explore new venues to go with their work, new medias and materials to try and even new styles of work to combine with their style or creating work. But for many there is this stigma that going back to school to learn a new skill or to expand your understanding of an idea will reduce you as an artist.

More people are required to expand not just their minds but their ability to understand more, this can come in many forms, but none so strong as continuing their education. For some it is a means to learn a new skill, for others they are trying to advance their carriers as art educators, and yet for others it is simply a means to be able to teach at the university level. But if we continue to put stigmas that further development makes you less, than how can we expect the art world to grow?

As an emerging international artist who has had exhibits in China, Korea, New York, Paris, Zurich, Madrid, and London but is also going back for his MFA to learn a new skill and with hopes of teaching at a university I face these stigmas all the time. When people hear that I am working on an MFA they tend to look past the fact that I have had solo and group shows not just in galleries but also museums around the world, that my works are in permanent collections of galleries, hotels, libraries and universities around Asia and in New York, that I belong to professional artists associations, and have won awards for my art, and that I have been featured in newspapers, magazines and on television in China and New York. To them all of that does not matter because I am going for my MFA.

If a businessman goes back to school to learn a new form of accounting or management he is sharpening his skills. If a doctor goes back to school to learn a new technique or equipment he is being on the cutting edge. But if an artist goes back to school to learn a new technique, equipment or style he is a student? Being that academies of art were some of the first universities in the world, it is sad that we place them on such a low plane in this day and age of advancement.

Where is the future of art?

No this is not my manifesto, but does contain parts of the ideas of the manifesto to explain what I am talking about….

Our great visionaries have gone away… Our leaders are leading us to stray… We lost our past, and cant find our future. Our teachers are leading us to the edge of nothingness… inviting us to view what is new, but yet already done… our art is designed for us by those that have come before, but have yet to be known to the world… the mass media of today is so great that it is easy to miss what has come before and think of it as new and different. Copy machine artists who cut and paste their ideas in Photoshop fill our galleries, our walls, and our books with nothing new, just merely rearranged thoughts of our past with no vision for the future.

Our history books have been reduced to google searches on web sites built by those who have less understanding of the world of art than they do of the marriage problems of celebrities and rock stars. Their information is gathered by those that cut and paste parts of writings changing their meaning without understanding what they are reading, merely using them because they sound good….

Those that are part of the evolution are on the outside of the mainstream, in the small venues of the art world, making their own success as the galleries, museums, and institutions are afraid to take a chance on change and are not willing to be in the front running for the future of art. It is no longer the galleries and museums tell us what to buy, but the collectors telling the galleries what to show. For this our future is on hold and the visionaries of the art of tomorrow will have to wait..

The failure of the Enlightenment

Probably one of the most important movements in art, the enlightenment encompasses some of the greatest changes not just in art but how we view art and society as a whole. As we explore the ideas of the enlightenment and the art of the time we will find parallels as well as distinctions in philosophical ideas of the time and the work being produced. These similarities and distinctions are formed due to social, political and religious thinking of the times and areas surrounding the artists and their own personal beliefs and understandings of the subject of enlightenment.
While the ideas of the enlightenment stretch from the end of the Middle Ages to the 19th century, it is not until the middle of the 18th century that we start to see these ideas even take shape. And while they seem to come together in the 19th century the ideas of the enlightenment will not during this time or even our time be fully realized in society as much as it is in art.
I will attempt to explore the aspects of art and its connection with the enlightenment from the “taste of nature” to the enlightenment in America. The four areas of focus will be the Late Baroque/Rococo period in Great Britain, Scotland, Central Europe, and America. In particular examining the works of William Hograth (1697-1764), Marriage a la Mode, 1743, Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), Rev. Robert Walker Skating, 1790s, The Asam Brothers, Egid Quirin (1692-1750) and Cosmas Damian (1686-1793) Weitenberg Abby Church, and Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), George Washington at Princeton, 1779 and how their works relates to the enlightenment ideas.
Before we can examine if the ideas of the enlightenment connection with the art of the time it is important to understand what we are talking about, in other word what are the enlightenment ideas? There are seven main ideas of the enlightenment; human autonomy, the importance of reason, that enlightenment is universal, progress, secularism, the centrality of economics to politics, and the idea of popular government (Olson). They can be broken into three areas; the idea of the individual as independent thinker, the separation of Church and State, and the ability for people to govern themselves. These ideas while separate depend on each other to exist.
The idea of the individual artist as an independent thinker started with the introduction of the art market in Holland, but did not start to be understood until the forming of Academy of Art in France. Unlike the early part of the Baroque period artists in the late Baroque/Rococo period show more freedom of individual thought and style in their works. This comes in part to the introduction of the Academy but is also related to the growth of the middle class in the late Baroque period. This growth allowed more people to buy art and show their likes and dislikes in the collection of art during the period.
It is through this growth that artists were able to explore more independent styles and ideas in their works. We see examples of this in the works of Hograth, Raeburn, Peale styles during the time. More so in the works of Hograth and Peale who while learning from the styles of earlier artists showed more individual styles in their work than that of Raeburn whose Dutch influence is shown in his work Rev. Robert Walker Skating, 1790s, and the Asam brothers who showed great influence by Bernini in their works.
Hograth who did genre-like paintings of the time did his work with commentaries on the social status of the people in Great Britain, while Peale and other artists of the American Enlightenment created works with a more realistic style and even though Raeburn’s Dutch influence could be seen in his work, his portraits took on the more natural form of paintings of the enlightenment than those of the Dutch Masters that influenced him.
This is not to say that artists of this time were totally independent in their thinking. As in the example I gave of Rev. Robert Walker Skating, 1790s much of these artists works were influenced by the great artists of earlier styles and techniques of Europe especially that of Italy and Dutch areas. This was due in part to the liking and wants of the art market which is influenced by peoples understanding of what art should be. Though the works were not controlled by a Monarch they were greatly influenced by the art market and desires of society as a whole. So while they had greater freedom in expressing their ideas, the artists would change from becoming slaves to the idea of one individual or the demands of the church to the ideals of the desires of social needs and wants. This concept would not just take hold in the ideas of the Individual but also through the idea of the separation of Church and State.
The idea of separation of Church and State, while an idea of the enlightenment would not be fully understood or even achieved during that time or even in today’s society. Though the late Baroque period of art would see the less control of the Church over the government, there would still be influences of the Church in Europe and America during the end of the enlightenment. Part of this freedom came from the philosophical questions about God and the role of the Church in society and the government. It would also be influenced with the introduction of the Academies which would teach about individual ideas and concepts of the time as well as introduce science and new ways of thinking.
As we examine the works of Hograth, Raeburn, Peale we can see a clear separation from the earlier influences of the Church in works of art. These artists’ works would reflect life as they saw it and not as moral or even spiritual guides or stories being laid out. Hograth’s Marriage a la Mode, 1743 while focused on the idea of a wedding would be more about the ups and downs of life than hold any kind of religious symbols or works that we would see in other marriage portraits of the earlier Baroque. Peale’s George Washington at Princeton, 1779 would be like most of the works of the time, historical in nature, and not like some earlier Baroque works that would add religious meaning or symbols to portraits of leaders of the time. Even Raeburn’s portrait of Rev. Robert Walker Skating, 1790s would show the Reverend not giving a lecture or preaching to people, but simply enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures.
But this is not to say that the Church did not have some influence on art or even society during the time. While most artists were looking to create their own styles of work, artists like the Asam brothers were greatly influenced by the works of such artists as Bernini and others who would create great masterpieces in the name of the reformation. Their work on the Weitenberg Abby Church showed not just a liking to Bernini but also a following of his ideas in creating works that not only spoke of the Church’s role in Central Europe but also designed as a stage to draw people in. The root idea of the enlightenment’s separation of Church and State coincides with the idea of a popular government system not ruled by a Monarch.
Though the idea of the artists working as an individual and not strictly for a monarch started with the art market in Holland and continued with the formation of the Academy of Art in France, it would have a greater acknowledgement in Great Britain and America during the enlightenment. Artists of these areas would have more freedom to create art that fit more to the liking of the people than that of a Monarch. This was due in part to Great Britain forming of a Parliament in the early 1700’s and America’s introduction of a government designed for and by the people.
We would see less of this idea in Central Europe areas like Germany not so much because of the form of government but more due to the late arrival of Central Europe in the enlightenment due to the 30 year war. So while the works of the Asam Brothers seems more like earlier Baroque art that was influenced by the Church and controlled by the Monarch there is little evidence that this was the case in those areas in Europe.
Hograth’s work which was more of a commentary on the sad state of the élite was a clear sign of artists moving away from the desire to impress the Monarch. And though Raeburn and Peale had both done portraits of prominent leaders and rulers during the time, their works were more of homage to those people than those of the earlier works in the Baroque who sought to seek favor with the Monarch.
As we examine the ideas of the enlightenment of the period with art, we can see that there are many parallels and a conflict in the ideas of the enlightenment and how they relate to the art of the time. The idea of separation of Church and State and the diminishing control of the government over artists and the art during the time were successful during the enlightenment. It is in the idea of the artist as a complete individual seems to simply change hands and not exist completely in the idea of enlightenment in art.
While artists were free to explore more ideas in their arts, and they were not subject to the control or wants of the Church or Monarch, they did become workers to the ideals and desires of the market of the times, whether it was the growing middle class, the more sociable and influential upper class or the taste of museums and galleries artists would continue to work for the desires of others in their art.

Rococo and the Enlightenment

The late Baroque known as Rococo can be seen as the final stage or gathering of the ideas of Enlightenment into the art of the time. Though the Rococo period is known for its loose style in its works it would not be until the end of the Rococo movement that we can see the true nature of art. To understand this movement of art from the strict guides of Baroque to the more natural movement of the Rococo I will focus on the works of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88). Much of Rococo work is said to be a movement away from symmetry to a more ornate, florid, and playful look and feel to the work of the time. (Delevati, Riffert, 9-10) To many it was about trying to capture or imitate nature.
In order for us to know if Michel De Montaigne’s (1533 – 1592) expectation was misplaced or not or if the Rococo is connected or disconnected to the Enlightenment we must know fist what is it to be enlightened. The Enlightenment was seen as a rejection of traditional social, religious, and political ideas and an emphasis on rationalism, which when looked at does not mean that people are truly enlightened but as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary puts it ‘the act or means of enlightening’. (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2011) It is for this reason of understanding that I find de Montaigne’s expectation unrealistic.
From my understanding the readings of de Montaigne’s idea is kind of like the question of what came first the chicken or the egg, for we cannot have an egg without a chicken and the chicken cannot be born without the egg. It seems to me that de Montaigne’s concept was purely scientifically based and left no room for the abstract. His statements come from his disappointment in religious conflicts, reflecting a spirit of skepticism and belief that humans are not able to attain true certainty (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 2004) and seem too literal for the time.
While Enlightenment is meant to get to the truth and based on rationalism de Montaigne seems to want to skip the search involved and declare defeat in our ability to understand before we even explore which is why it might be that de Montaigne saw his life as preparing for his death. These ideas came about during what is known as de Montaigne’s skeptical crisis. He seemed to take the ideas so to heart that he had his famous quote ‘Que sais-je?’ What do I know?, engraved on a personal medal. (Foglia, 2010) This is not to say that de Montaigne essays did not have merit, they did, however it may have been much to ask for during its time and of artists who were just starting to explore the ideas of the Enlightenment as a whole and not in small parts. With this we are still left with the question of whether Rococo is associated or contradictory of the ideas we find in the Enlightenment.
When it comes to the Rococo Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699 – 1779) had referred to this period of art as an “Ars Simia Naturae (Art is the ape of nature)” (B. 282-83) something that had originally referred to artists during the middle ages because they were simply trying to imitate life in their works. This idea has emulated through time and when searching the art of Rococo it is a common phrase that many have come to associate with the art of the time, but here we can see it as more than just a mere imitation. Artists were capturing not just the presence of life but the stories of life itself.
The idea of the connection of Rococo and the Enlightenment is best described in the essay “Late Baroque & Rococo Portraits: The Cult of Sensibility”. The idea of the artists having Freedom to make choices, a heightened sense of self-awareness, a personal vision of a better life, and the individual embracing values of change was what the enlightenment was all about. (Delevati, Riffert, 10:6) As mentioned earlier Rococo work is said to be a movement away from symmetry to a more ornate, florid, and playful look and feel to the work of the time is what we have come to know as artistic license in the world of art. This is a move away from the very controlled and technical based ideas of artistic view in art during the earlier Baroque period.
We see those ideas brought to focus during Gainsborough’s late portraiture works. Though Gainsborough would prefer landscapes to portraitures it is in these later paintings that his work would truly take on the ideas of the enlightenment through what was known as natural and spontaneous mood feeling to his work. (Wilson, Reill 2004).
Many would agree that it is his painting of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (1749) that shows the true spirit of the enlightenment and while I will cover some of the aspects of the work of art, I would say that Girl with Pigs (1782) gives us a better idea of the Enlightenment in Rococo art, and will discuss this work as an example of the ideas of Enlightenment and how they relate to the Rococo. While this work might not be as well-known as Mr. and Mrs. Andrews it managed to capture even the eye of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Gainsborough rival, who called it ‘by far the best picture he ever painted, or perhaps ever will’ before purchasing it for a hundred guineas. (Gomez, Greensides, Hyland 286-287).
There are two main reasons why I believe that Girl with Pigs is more symbolic of the Enlightenment in the Rococo than Mr. and Mrs. Andrews is the way in which the background is painted and the subjects of the paintings. While both paintings display a lighter brush stroke than the previous Baroque period the landscape portion of the portrait for Mr. and Mrs. Andrews was done in a Dutch style that Gainsborough had learned, where the Girl with Pigs’ landscape is painted in more of the Rococo style of not just loose strokes but also less detail work in the landscape objects. This style which begins in Rococo will go on to influence Romantic Art, the Hudson River School and even Impressionism.
Gainsborough had painted the landscape in Mr. and Mrs. Andrews as a way to show his ability to potential patrons of his work and to satisfy his personal preference in his work. This style of his painting was done as a way to make money, as already discussed Gainsborough preferred landscapes but needed a way to help his family. He continued to paint portraits of sitters in what he called “face paint” and while they are done in the Rococo style they are done with the approval or disapproval of the sitter, which is more characteristic of the Middle Baroque period. What makes Girl with Pigs different in this manner is that the painting while could be known as portraiture is more of a story in the Rococo style.
The girl in the painting sits in a natural pose not looking at the painter, but observing her pigs as they drink from a bowl. The painting not depicting the girl in fancy clothing or made up hair, but in plain torn clothing, shoeless, and with short hair, something that was done at the time to help keep young girls from head lice. While Gainsborough tried to depict people in his portraits in a natural pose in his works, here he captures the natural pose as it is meant to be not so much staged but as part of the story line. He also attempted to capture the pigs eating naturally in the painting, but according to a farmer who viewed the painting did not understand the nature of pigs feasting “nobody ever saw pigs feeding together but one of them has a foot in the trough.” While I was unable to find it, it is believed that Gainsborough painted another painting with a pigs paw in the dish as well in an attempt to capture the natural appeal of pigs feeding. (Oklahoma State Department of Education)
It is through the understanding of works of Gainsborough that we can not only get the sense of the Rococo style but see how they fit into the Enlightenment. The Rococo like the Enlightenment was about creating works that reflected the rational aspects and realist appeal of life what we have seen referred to as the Ape of Nature in the period. The works of art used loose lines to describe the shapes as they appear in motion and free of constraints which are the same as the aspects of the Enlightenment that is based on the rejection of traditional social, religious, and political ideas that were considered constraints of the earlier Baroque tendencies.
We also see through the works the ideas that are discussed in the essay “Late Baroque & Rococo Portraits: The Cult of Sensibility”. In this late Baroque period of Rococo we witness the artists as having freedom to make choices in the works that they create and who they create them for. As having a heightened sense of self-awareness in that artists see themselves as a worker for their own personal needs and not constrained solely by the needs of others or the Monarch. Having a personal vision of a better life where artists realize their ability to create a better life through selling their work to support themselves and their families as they see fit. And the individual embracing values of change where we see artists creating works of art that speak more of the life of the time and not that described or controlled by the monarch or church.

Delevati, Paul and Riffert, David. GS 607: Art & Ideas of the Enlightenment. Module 9-10, Graduate Studies Department. Academy of Art University, Sept. 2009. Web. April 2011.
Shiner, Larry. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. University Of Chicago Press, 2003. Print.
Bazin, Germain. Baroque and Rococo. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.
B., Hope. The Continuum encyclopedia of animal symbolism in art. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. 282-83. Print.
Wilson, Ellen J, and Peter H. Reill. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. New York: Facts On File, Inc, 2004. 218. Print.
Olga Gomez, Francesca Greensides, Paul Hyland. The Enlightenment: A Sourcebook and Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. 286-287. Print.
“Enlightenment.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2011. Merriam-Webster Online.
23 April 2011
“de Montaigne.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 23 April 2011.
Foglia, Marc, “Michel de Montaigne”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Web. 23 April 2011
“Mr. and Mrs. Andrews.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 23 April 2011.
“Ag in Art” Oklahoma State Department of Education: Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom. 2011. Web. 23 April 2011

Philosophy during the Baroque period

Baroque art during the seventeenth and eighteenth century was meant to depict the religious tensions during the time (, the same could be said of the philosophy of the time. Three of the great philosophers of the time; Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz would have as many similarities and differences as we find in the ideas of Baroque art during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. By first reviewing the ideas of these thinkers we will be able to than compare and contrast their ideas with each other and exam how they do or do not relate to each other and Baroque art of the period.

As the earliest of these thinkers being Descartes we will start with him. Descartes notion starts with the idea of questioning everything in order to give him a better understanding of the world; he refers to this as a methodological skepticism. He questions knowledge and if there is knowledge how it is different from opinion. To do this he employed a mathematical method to his questions in order to find real knowledge; he does this by using intuition and deduction. Descartes like Plato believes that the sense can deceive us, and so he suspends all beliefs to find what is certain. In trying to find out if life is a dream or real, Descartes comes to the idea that by simply thinking about if this is a dream or real give way to the idea that he is something. The idea of him transcends the physical because the idea is enough to suggest that there is an existence. Therefore his ability to think becomes a reality of his life, so long as Cogito (I think) is going on, than I have to be. He goes on to bring about the idea of God into his method, and tries to prove the existence of God. Since he exists and something cannot come from nothing, and he is imperfect and something more perfect cannot come from something less perfect. God is perfect and exists and for him to be able to prove that God exists and as such be accepting that he is imperfect and can think therefore he also exists.

Spinoza follows in some of the ideas of Descartes as he uses a mathematical and scientific approach to his method and follows the ideas of levels. These levels to build upon one another, but even more interwoven than we find in Descartes making Spinoza’s work more of a Gesamptkunstwerk. Unlike Descartes Spinoza looks at his philosophy as a guide in human conduct. Spinoza relates God in some of the same manner that he relates the universe, but not on the same level. He uses it in terms of everything manifests from God, kind of like God is in us all. Since everything comes from God everything is a part of God. Spinoza states that there are actually infinite numbers of attributes, but says that it is two-fold because we can only understand two of them as mind and matter. With the mind we can think, feel, desire, imagine, perceive, and with matter we can see the expression of power of motion in bodies. He explains that it is not that they are interchangeable, but that they depend on each other. In other words we cannot have mind and matter or nature or the universe without God.

Like both Descartes and Spinoza Leibniz builds his ideas on mathematical and scientific approach, but Leibniz would hold closer to the ideas of the scholastic as he believed that the ideas of Descartes and Spinoza would lead to atheism. His work would be closer to that of Spinoza in some ways as he builds it on a mathematical maze of Baroque architecture. He builds this idea on what he calls monads. Leibniz’s monads are the energy that gives us life. He is talking about the life force in which all matter exists, which is the energy behind the matter, something that we are not able to see. He states that each monad cannot grasp the inner life of another, but rather they work unconsciously together in a pre-established harmony. Basically he is talking about how they function in their space without colliding. In other words their energy keeps other forces at even distance as to move around each other and drive the matter (

Each of these philosophers tries to explain the existence of life and God, and while there are differences in some of their approaches they basically build these ideas on a rational concept and use levels built on mathematical and sceintific rations to explain their ideas. Because of this the philosophy of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz would coincide more with the ideas of Baroque to the North than the emotional ideas of Italian and Spanish Baroque in the South. This building of ideas on levels will relate greatly to Baroque art as we will see in works of St. Peters, and Versailles as well as other Baroque architecture and some other works of art which uses many levels and different aspects working together sometimes in concert with each other and other times unknown to each other but in harmony to create a gesampkunstwerk. The best example of this would be Versailles built during the reign of Louis XIV. Louis’s idea was to create a gesampkunstwerk which would talk to the greatness of France. The various artists, architects and designers would work together and sometimes separate adding their own part to the total work of the structure. At times they would work together at other times they would, depending on their role work on a section all to their own, but the whole time working to bring the piece together as a complete work of life and art.

We can relate the ideas of Descartes to beauty in the eye of the beholder in Baroque art by examining it in the same way that we examine our understanding of self. It is not as simple as stating that I think something is beautiful and therefore it is we have to look at our understanding of what beauty means to us. The lesson on Descartes refers to the idea of looking at wax. We cannot rely on our senses to understand what wax is, because of its ability to change based on circumstances, therefore we have to depend on our intellect to understand the properties and how they may change. Only by doing so can we grasp the concept of wax. Being that our intellect and understanding of things varies from person to person, so does our understanding of beauty. While we can see many examples of this in Baroque art probably the best examples would be Holland. During the Baroque Dutch period we see the introduction of the art market. While many artists could submit their works for sale on the market only those that found favor in the viewers would be able to make a living off their work. We see a good example of this in Rembrandt’s work as it would sell well not just in commissions but also in the market allowing him to have a good income for a while, this would later change as the taste for art would move to a more classical appeal and Rembrandt would not sell so much to the market later in his life (

Like Descartes the concepts of Leibniz and Spinoza are not restricted to the creation of art, but also refer to the idea of the forces behind art during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. While art is often visual during the Baroque period there were many forces driving the arts and artists, it was at times the counter reform, the political leaders and governments, the market or the education of the artists themselves. These are forces that the viewer is not always able to see but is there moving and controlling the art. Though we can find similarities in the philosophies and Baroque art of the period there are also differences.

Just as we find some of the differences in the philosophies we also find some of these differences in the idea of Baroque art as well. As each of the philosophers try to examin the idea of existence or God in their own way so does Baroque art examin the differences in its existence and the various beliefs in God through its works. We can see examples of this in the very strong religious themes and noble works of artists like Velazquez and Bernini to the more subtle approaches to religion in art by artists like Vermeer. (Shiner, 57-129)

We can see that while there are differences and similarities of the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz during the Baroque period that their concepts and logic go with the art of the time. While Baroque art was an overall idea of art during the seventeenth and eighteenth century it varied much like the philosophy of the time in that there was no total agreement in what constituted existence or even art for that matter.

Shiner, Larry. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. University Of Chicago Press, 2003. 57-129. Print.
Bazin, Germain. Baroque and Rococo. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.
Invicta Media, . “17th century Dutch & Flemish Art and regional art galleries.” (2000): n. pag. Web. 6 Mar 2011. .
Janson, Jonathan. “essential vermeer .” Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the 17th century (2001): n. pag. Web. 10 Mar 2011. .
“Baroque Art.” Definition, History, Architecture, 17th Century Painting & Sculpture.. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF IRISH AND WORLD ART, Web. .
History of Versailles.” Chateau de Versailles (2002): n. pag. Web. 20 Mar 2011. .

Baroque Art

The term Baroque which encompasses art from the sixteenth to eighteenth century may have similar ideas as to the dynamic movement and religious aspect of the time has different artistic styles that can be found in the different regions the art is created. These various changes were the reflection not just of the area the art was created, but also the result of the religious practices in the area, the rulers of that area, and the peoples view of art at the time. Baroque art was dominant in Italy, Spain, France and Dutch where there were distinct differences some that lead to Enlightenment. To make this argument I will be comparing two works of the Baroque period, Las Meninas, 1656 by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1588-1660), Spain and The Milkmaid, 1658-1660 by Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) Holland. We can mark several differences and a few similarities between these artists and their work as an example in the different approaches to Baroque art and the road to Enlightenment.

Spanish Baroque art was dare I say the jewel of the counter-reform but would have little effect on the Enlightenment. It showed its work in all the aspects as set forth by the church as after all “Baroque art above all reflected the religious tensions of the age” ( While depicting religion in art was not the sole requirement for paintings of Baroque Spanish art, artists who wanted to find favor in Spain at the time had to show their ability to create the ideas of the counter reform in their works as they were strictly dependent on patronage during the time. An artist that greatly represents the ideals and visions of Baroque art in Spain was Velazquez. Velazquez was among the few who would find favor in his work and become court painter for Phillip IV and be able to receive a month stipend for his work. This would not be the case for all artists who during this time were considered of low class. It is because this strict patronage and the idea that artists were still of low class during the time of the Spanish Baroque period that there would be little influence on further Baroque periods to the Enlightenment. The status of artists in Holland was also considered low class for the most part at the time, but they would not be as dependent on patronage as the artists of Spain.
Unlike Spain Baroque art in Holland baroque art had far less religious content and instead was designed essentially to appeal to the middle class. This was due to the fact that Holland was predominately a Protestant area ( Another difference is that artists in Holland would have the option of selling their work to the market and not subject them only to needs and desires of a patronage as found in Spain. During the time while some artists would seek patronage it was not the only means of making money and even those that did would often sell paintings to the market in order to make additional money for their studios. Vermeer who was not as successful as Velazquez during his life would be able to sell works to the market and through his sales gain a few commissions from people who appreciated his work. The idea of the art market is one of the aspects of Baroque art that would lead to the idea of separation between artist and artisan in the Enlightenment. Other than the religious and social views of art during Baroque the styles of the artists would also vary based on influences during the time.
Spanish and Holland Baroque art would guide European painting to a naturalistic realism, but would each have their own unique styles from each other. Spanish Baroque art would “adapt a severe and noble style which combined line and colour as well as the graphic and pictorial, and involved such an acute sense of observation” ( We can see an example of this in Velazquez’s work “Las Meninas.” While this painting is entitled the maids of honour it is considered by many to be a self-portrait of Velazquez. In this portrait Velazquez shows his status as a notable artist. He paints the scene showing his awaiting a visit from Phillip IV, the infanta and entourage as if posing for the artist to create their portrait, yet Velazquez does not seem to be working but almost posing himself in his fine clothing looking out towards the viewer. This realist appeal to art which would be popular in Baroque art is an influence of tenebrism and chiaroscuro from those that followed in the way of Caravaggio. While we find it in other forms of Baroque art the influence comes from studying and following the masters of Italy and not that of Spain.
Much like Spanish Baroque art the art in Holland would pay close attention to the idea of observation and the techniques of tenebrism and chiaroscuro. Holland Baroque art while not totally void of noble style tended to appeal more to the middleclass as artists sold more of their work to the market. Because of this reason the Holland Baroque artists would paint mostly about the joys of life. This art market which consisted of galleries, cafes, libraries and museums, would allow for more genres of work to be sold. This is not to say that Holland art market did not have its own restrictions. Artists would also find favor in selling by belonging to St. Luke’s Guild so as to help control the competition. Though artists were able to sell to the market they were also subject to the likes of the market. While many connoisseurs would buy the works of the Dutch style there was a tendency to buy more Renaissance style work (
An artist who best depicts the ideas of Holland Baroque in my opinion is Vermeer. His work like “De Melkmeid (The Milkmaid)” 1658-1661 shows the lives of middle class life in Holland during the time. We can get the idea of the life as an observer looking in on the room, but unlike what we viewed in the work of Velasquez here we see the maiden in simple Dutch maiden clothing and basic everyday household items. This style of painting would be different not only from the noble appeal we see in Spain, but the Grand Manner we see in other Dutch works from artists like Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). While it would not be as popular during its time, it would show a changing in the acceptance of different genres during the Baroque period.
The two styles of art themselves had some similarities and differences in their approaches to their work. Unlike Vermeer much is known about Velazquez’s life as an artist. He was an apprentice to Francisco Pacheco, and showed great skill from the beginning of his early works. His work contains great attention to detail including still-life objects that he includes to his work. Early on in his carrier Velazquez had a difficulty with the human form. His religious beliefs and Spanish decorum would not permit him to create works of nude forms, for this reason it was not until his visit to Italy that Velazquez was able to better understand the human form, though he still would not create totally nude forms holding to the decorum of the time ( This was typical of Spanish Baroque art artists tended to be good at realism, but would have a hard time with the human figure. Artists who would want to improve their form would turn to Italy and the Baroque artists of the area.
We would know little of Vermeer’s early life as a painter. Though we are unsure of what training he had early on in his carrier it was certain that he had some as he was accepted into St. Luke’s Guild. Though he was good with the human form we also don’t find nudes in his works not because Dutch Baroque did not allow it but probably because it did not fit with the genre of his paintings. Besides these middle class styles of paintings, Holland artists also created many landscapes. These kinds of paintings would be popular as many collectors and middle class would buy paintings to decorate their homes. Though this idea of the market and the introduction of genres outside of a strict religious theme would add to the Enlightenment it would not be a large impact during its time.

These kinds of differences and similarities that we find in these Baroque periods of art, which would actually start before Baroque art, are found in all Baroque styles of art from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. While these small differences would all add to the idea of Enlightenment in art during the time, it would not be until the introduction of the Academy, the growth of libraries, and museums and merging these small ideas together that we would see the emergence of Enlightenment in art.

Shiner, Larry. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. University Of Chicago Press, 2003. 57-129. Print.
Bazin, Germain. Baroque and Rococo. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.
Invicta Media, . “17th century Dutch & Flemish Art and regional art galleries.” (2000): n. pag. Web. 6 Mar 2011. .
Janson, Jonathan. “essential vermeer .” Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the 17th century (2001): n. pag. Web. 10 Mar 2011. .
“Baroque Art.” Definition, History, Architecture, 17th Century Painting & Sculpture.. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF IRISH AND WORLD ART, Web. .
“Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. .

Philosophy of seventeenth and eighteenth century art in Europe

Seventeenth and eighteenth century art in Europe underwent significant changes as a result of shifts in economy, ideas about the function of the arts and the artists, and taste in art. While the changes were significant, as we examine the different social, economic, and aesthetic roles of the arts during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we find that the changes in Fine Arts and the idea of the artist as more than creating to serve a function will not be fully recognized until the nineteenth century. These changes come together through the idea of taste in art and appreciation for the artists as an individual and not an extension of the market.
We will start by examining the effects of society in the seventeenth and eighteenth century on the arts and the artists. The effects that society plays on the arts during the seventeenth and eighteenth century are divided into religion, political, and educational. The roles of each of these while individual are not completely separated, but work together in some aspects that will affect the role of the artists and will bring about some of the changes we will examine in the economic and aesthetic roles on the arts as well.
While politics would play a role on the arts between the seventeenth and eighteenth century, political rulers tended to follow many of the churches ideas of the role of art and the artists during this time. The seventeenth century was dominated mostly by the counter reform in religion and political ideas in Europe, when it came to the arts ( Artists who did not find favor with the patrons, church or court were unable to support their work, but artists like Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664) were able to create through the support of patrons. Even more so was Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1606) who would find favor and become court painter to Phillip IV. He would not only be able to support his work, but also travel to Italy where he would learn other painting techniques that would add to his artistic style (Bazin 59;
Much like Velazquez in the south, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) in the north would gain recognition and patronage for his work but with a slight difference. While Velazquez would paint primarily for the court of Phillip IV, Rubens would open a large studio where he would be able to take on patronage from many art connoisseurs, as well as the ability to sell to the market ( idea of an art market was something that was brought about by the Dutch, were artists could sell their works like other crafts of the time. Though both of these artists would gain great recognition for their works, they would still find themselves, as did many other artists of the seventeenth century, caught in the idea of artists as little more than workers in a shop producing for the consumer (Shiner 57-129).
The social ideas of art would begin to form at the end of the seventeenth century with the forming of art academies, but it would not be until the further development of Academies of Art and the greater appreciation for individual taste in art during the eighteenth century that we start to see the idea of the individual artists as we have come to know them today. The introduction of Academies allows for a deeper understanding of the differences in artist and artisan, as artists would gain more freedom and artisans were more restricted by rules. The academies also developed exhibits for the artists allowing them to show their individuality and even sell work at the exhibits and not be held down with waiting for commissions (Shiner 57-129). With these changes in the ideas of the status of the artists and art in general also came a difference in the economic status of the arts and the artists.
As there was a social change on the arts during this time so were there changes on the effects of the economy in the seventeenth and eighteenth century on the arts and the artists. Economics has a two-fold effect on the arts and artists during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the first being the ability for more people to afford art, the other being the artists ability to transition from working for a single patron or group to being about to sell their work on the market or in exhibits.
During the first part of the seventeenth century artist primarily worked for a patron or if they were skilled enough would become court painters or work for an individual patron who would support them and their work. Depending on their relationship with the patron or their level of acceptance artists during this time were paid in one of two ways. If they worked by individual commissions they were normally paid for the cost of the materials, the amount of time it took to complete the work, the difficulty of the work, and what the work was being used for. If the artist was fortunate enough like Velazquez they would be paid a monthly payment by their patron besides their fees for commissioned work (Shiner 57-129).
As the Dutch introduced the art market, artists like Rembrandt (1606-1669) and Vermeer (1632-1675) were able to sell their work not just through commissions but also to the public in general. While many of the master artists may not have sold so much to the market, it did give a chance for artist who were not so well known and apprentices to sell their work to make money to support their art. Part of the reason for the introduction of the art market was the Dutch society as a whole had more money to spend and enjoyed using it to decorate their homes. (
During the eighteenth century this idea of a capitalistic market continued to grow not just in business but also in the area of art. With the continued growth of academies and the distinction between artist and artisan became clearer artists were able to sell their work based on their reputation and their creative abilities (Shiner 57-129). As more people were able to buy art they also could be choosier in the kind of art they wanted to buy.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth century as the social and economic roles of art changes so do the taste of art. These changes come in the idea of the artist being freer to create beyond the demands of the patron and the understanding and appreciation for art at the different levels of the market, but even though we see the ideas of modern art developing the overall ideal of visual beauty is still very important in the arts (Shiner 57-129). While we start to see this idea of taste in art, the idea of taste tends towards classical themes for the most part.
The appreciation of early Italian Renaissance art and the training of great artists like Velazquez, Rubens, as well as the introduction of early Italian art into Spain through artists like El Greco (1541-1614) built a strong sense of classical work in the early seventeenth century. With the introduction of the art market in the second half of the seventeenth century and societies’ ability to buy more art artists move more towards more subtle works of art, but still held on to classical appeal for the most part. We can see these ideas in works of Vermeer’s work, who painted mostly senses of middle class life, The Milk Maid (1658-1661). While Vermeer did not create a lot of work during this time, it was believed that his paintings were bought to decorate homes or businesses during the time (
During the eighteenth century with the growth of academies and the change in society we start to see a trend of the individual artist, but this trend continues to be strongly influenced by classical themes. Even with the social and economic changes going on during this time, many of the great masters who would be instructors at the academies would be trained in the classical styles and would pass these lessons on to their students who would continue to add these classical themes even in new styles and techniques. We can see examples in the works of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770). His work The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1722), Education of the Virgin (1732) and The Beheading of John the Baptist (1732-33) are clear examples of classical themes painted in the Rococo style of art during the eighteenth century (
As we looked at the social changes and economic growth during the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Europe we note that while bringing more freedom to the idea of art and artists it would have little effect on the classical appeal to art during this period. While the social changes allowed artists to move from the patronage system of supporting art to the more open ability to sell in an open market, and the economic growth gave artists the ability to make more money and support more of their own art without the need of patrons, there was still a desire for classical themes and style of paintings in much of Europe during this time. It would not be until the middle of the nineteenth century that the full appreciation of the artist as an individual and art in the modern view of today would be realized.

Shiner, Larry. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. University Of Chicago Press, 2003. 57-129. Print.
Bazin, Germain. Baroque and Rococo. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.
Invicta Media, . “17th century Dutch & Flemish Art and regional art galleries.” (2000): n. pag. Web. 6 Mar 2011. .
“Peter Paul Rubens, The complete Works.” Peter Paul Rubens, The complete Works. N.p., 2011. Web. 10 Mar 2011. .
“Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. .
“REMBRANDT van rijn.” REMBRANDT van rijn: Biography and Chronology (2011): n. pag. Web. 10 Mar 2011. .
Janson, Jonathan. “essential vermeer .” Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the 17th century (2001): n. pag. Web. 10 Mar 2011. .

Understanding Art: A look at isms’, Movements, and concepts through time

What is art? When we look at art what is it that we see? What do we look at? And how do we know if something is really art? All of these questions are as old as the word art. From time to time we find ourselves reexamining what makes art, art. Sir Roger Penrose, one of the foremost scientists of our time, when faced with a similar problem with regard to the definition of quite something else, viz. (即), consciousness (知觉), states in his The Emperor’s New Mind: “I do not think that it is wise, at this stage of understanding, to attempt to propose a precise definition of consciousness, but we can rely, to good measure, on our subjective impressions and intuitive common sense as to what the term means …” The same seems to hold for art: You know what it is, I know it, but a definition is quite something else.

Part of the reason it may be so hard to define art has to do with the fact that through time the means, methods and even styles of creating and producing art have changed. Art or at least what we know to be art today has not always been so. Items that we consider to be art today may not have been considered art at the time it was created. When we look at Prehistoric cave paintings, Greek pottery or even early medieval illuminations (中世纪照明), and so on – these objects were made at a time when the word art or even the concept of art that we have today did not exist. The words “art” and “artist” are actually modern terms which themselves have changed and developed over time.

Because of these reason art has and will continue to have an unsatisfactory definition. With no clear definition it is best to describe art not as what it is but how it is done. Artists are asked to describe their work as to the process which includes skill, environment, and imagination to name a few.

While this is true I will try to define art in the best way I can, piece by piece and one period at a time.

So what is art?

Part of the problem that comes from defining what art is comes from the fact that so little is known of the early cultures that produced objects that we know as art today. When we look at early art from the cave art to small stone carvings it is unclear of what if any of these objects may have been created for adornment and what was created as part of their need or beliefs. One reason for this may be that only a small portion of objects from that era have survived through time.

More is known of later civilizations: Ancient Egypt (古老埃及), Mesopotamia (美索不达米亚), Persia (波斯), India (印度), China (中国), Ancient Greece (古老希腊), Rome (罗马), as well as Inca (印加人), Maya (玛雅人), and Olmec, because these civilizations lasted longer and were much larger. Each of them developed their own styles and techniques (技术) of creating art that have influenced some of the art of even today. One of the factors for this is that it is during this time that we find some of the first records of how art is created during this time. It is these records that have been reserved. Another being that the size and materials used to create art of these eras has made it possible for the objects to last longer.

Though these civilizations created more elaborate works of art, it is clear that their concepts of art were still not what we consider them today. To them art was a skill that was learned, and artists were no more important then that of a carpenter or shoe maker. In late Antiquity the arts consisted of the seven “artes liberals”, the liberal arts (人文科学): Grammar (语法), Logic (逻辑), Rhetoric (修辞), Geometry (几何), Arithmetic (算术), Astronomy (天文), and Music (音乐). Philosophy (哲学) was the mother of them all. On a lower level stood the technical arts (技术艺术) like architecture (建筑学), agriculture (农业), painting (绘画), sculpture (雕塑) and other crafts. “Art” as we conceive of it today was a mere craft. It was considered a skill that one would learn.

During the Middle Ages (中间年龄) art was known as the “ape of nature”, the ape was a symbol for the arts of painting and sculpture. The artist’s skill was regarded as essentially imitative (模仿) and became linked with the animal known for its imitativeness. The idea was expressed in a popular saying, “Ars Simia Naturae”— Art is the ape of Nature.

It was not until the 15th and 16th century in Italy (意大利) that an object being known as a work of art emerged together with the concept of an artist. It was during this time known as the Renaissance (新生) that the word art developed as a collective term that encompassed painting, sculpture, and architecture. This was contributed in part by Italian artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century. Later Poetry and Music where added to this group which in the 18th century became known as the “Fine Arts” (艺术).

So how does art go from being known as a craft or skill during the ancient world and Middle Ages to that of what we know as art today? It was during the later part of the 16th century when the first academies of art were founded that artists were instructed in courses which included geometry and anatomy. From this was the term fine arts were developed. But even then the definition of what constituted art was narrow.

With the development of the academies art continued to make developments and during the 19th century new theories and claims were made about the ideas of painting and sculpture. In the mid-19th century modernist concepts and approaches were introduced. These ideas came with new subject matters, and included new areas of painterly values.

Near the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century rose the concept of “art for arts sake”. The term comes from an early 19th century French slogan ”l’art pour l’art”. Then in the early part of the 20th century artist such as Marcel Duchamp threw the world of art into frenzy. He claimed that all things are art and anything the artist does could be considered art. This mock of the classical ideas of art, while not accepted by all, gave room for a broader definition of what we define as art. This era marked an end to Modernism and opened a more umbrella term of contemporary to engulf the world of art. While there have been some smaller movements since the 1970s, the driving force for creating new movements in art have been secondary to the idea of creating art for business sake. Probably the greatest question today is weather or not art has new areas worthy of exploring or has it all already been done. The future of art is unknown.